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Donna Morrissey: ‘I never know the beginning of a novel till I know its ending’


Donna Morrissey is the author of five novels, including Kit's Law, Sylvanus Now and Downhill Chance, as well as Cross Katie Kross, a children's book illustrated by her daughter, Bridgette. Morrissey, who lives in Halifax, recently published The Fortunate Brother, in which a family mourning the death of their eldest son is suspected of murder.

Why did you write your new book?

The accidental death of my brother in the oil fields gutted my family. Through writing I, have brought his story – and that of two others – to a place of mythology that rests more beautifully in my and my family's bosom.

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What's more important, the beginning of a book or the end?

I never know the beginning of a novel till I know its ending, and I never know its ending till I know its beginning. And, meanwhile, I'm sinking somewhere in its swampy, shifting, smoking middle that threatens to swallow me at every turn.

What's your favourite bookstore in the world?

Every bookstore in the world is my favourite! Even secondhand bookstores. Speaking of, the Last Word, a second-hand bookstore on Windsor Street in Halifax that has shelves and shelves of novels, most obscure, is especially dear to my heart. The owner, Wayne, is this sparsely white-haired man retired from the oil fields, and who has read thousands of books and remembers every detail of both author and story, and is eager to share and direct and critique with all of his customers. He broadens my reading range each time I visit him, and his enthusiasm and passion for the written word sends me back out the door and heading for my laptop, brimming with inspiration.

What scares you as a writer?

Stealing! I always carry beautiful sentences around in my head and after a year or two or three goes by, I find myself writing something that feels too poetic for my limited mind, and I quiver with fear thinking, "Oh gawd, is that mine? Or did I read that somewhere? Oh Christ, I'm not deleting it, no no no, I'm not, but … but …"

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

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God forgive me, but Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Poor friggin' Tess is raped, bears an illegitimate child and is viewed as "unpure" by her heart-love, the fickle Angel who is unable to see past his own twisted set of morals to see the richness and purity of Tess's spirit. Then, after Tess has been driven to murder the man who raped her, we watch the hypocrite, Angel, open his eyes to see the purity of the woman he has judged so mercilessly. And if he had continued to live in his self-pitying remorse after Tess had been hanged for murder, perhaps I might've gotten some satisfaction from the story. But, oh no!! Angel gets to marry his virgin – Tess's sister, who conveniently looks like Tess as well as being a virgin – whilst the real heroine gets hanged. Yecch! Oh yes, we all know he married the virgin upon Tess's wishes to help her family. But, why didn't he simply pay off the family to atone? To marry the virgin Liza-Lu is simply a continuation of the double standards and hypocrisy imposed on all women at the time, and Angel's awakening is still biased to his own self-fulfilment. There, now that I've finally spelled that out – been carrying it for 35 years – maybe I can turn a kinder eye toward the wonderful Thomas Hardy.

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